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Two years after the coronavirus became the focus of all my coverage as a science reporter for The Times (and all my thoughts every hour since waking up), it happened: I tested positive for the virus.
My case was mostly mild, as the virus is usually for every healthy person in their 40s or so. However, my experience gave me a perspective that I would not get from reading scientific articles or interviewing experts.
In the last two years, I’ve written hundreds of articles about the coronavirus – about asymptomatic infections, tests, our body’s immune defenses, breakthrough infections, and boosters. I have been interviewed dozens of times to answer questions about the disease, the pandemic and the US response to the virus.
But all the while, my connection to the virus remained academic, impersonal. Even when the Delta variant passed through India and I lay sleepless, worried about my parents, it was still not quite at my door.
Honestly, I’m surprised it took me so long to catch Covid. As a person dealing with infectious diseases, I am not disrespectful to pathogens and my family, and I took some risks during the pandemic. My husband has been teaching squash indoors, often without a mask, my children have been attending school in person – albeit in disguise – since the autumn of 2020, and I have flown, including a 20-hour trip to India in the midst of the Omicron Jump.
But we’re all vaccinated and boosted (except for my 10-year-old daughter, who still doesn’t qualify for a booster) and relatively healthy, so we knew that while we might develop some symptoms if we got Covid, we will most likely recover quickly. We were careful, especially around vulnerable people, such as my mother-in-law and friends who have young children.
During dinner (indoors) in early March, a friend and I were amazed at how our families had run away from Covid. The virus seems to be receding, and cases in New York have been lower than in months. We thought we were clean.
I should have known I was tempting fate.
Three days later, I found an email in my spam folder from the city’s school testing program warning me that my son had tested positive for the virus. I immediately informed the school. That evening, a friendly man working for the city called to give me some information. It began with “Kovid is a disease caused by a virus called coronavirus.” It was almost dinner, and I was still finishing my story — about the science of the coronavirus, of course — so I asked if we could skip ahead. But he was required to go through all the details of the disease, symptoms and quarantine protocol.
After 16 minutes of this one-sided discourse, he asked me if I had any questions. I didn’t do it and I’m lucky I don’t need quarantine in the city or free supplies.
It was Thursday, March 10th. Looking back, my husband felt under the bad weather earlier that week, but a quick test showed no viruses. My son also had a scratched throat, but attributed it to seasonal allergies. Just as the experts I interviewed said, the symptoms were indistinguishable.
Although my quick test turned out to be negative, I decided to act like I had Covid. I warned my colleagues. I escaped on a trip with friends. My children canceled all their activities. In the end I gave a positive test.
On Friday night, my daughter had a low-grade fever, but the next morning she was full of jumps. As expected, we adults were the most affected. I had a severe cold and a relentless malaise. By the following Wednesday, I was too ill to work. I learned that even those with a mild case can experience serious symptoms.
I have the privilege of having the luxury of working from home when I feel able to, and taking a break when I’m not. And I am lucky that my children are old enough not to need constant care and that they attend a school that allows distance learning. I knew before I had Covid that the disease had an extremely disproportionate impact on underserved communities, but as I said in a Times podcast, The Daily, the virus has put that knowledge on hold.
I have written about many diseases – HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy, polio – that I have never had. I could do without Covid without this experience. I’m not worried that these symptoms last too long – vaccination significantly reduces the risk of so-called long Covid – but I still love naps.
I am grateful to have received a richer, broader immune defense against the virus. But most of all, I’m glad I have a deeper understanding of what our readers are going through.